Thesp replace Fiennes in Coetzee adaptation

CANNES — John Malkovich has replaced Ralph Fiennes as the star of “Disgrace,” the bigscreen adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel. Pic, which will lense this fall, is set as an Australian-South African co-production and tops a pair of new Australian features at Hong Kong and Netherlands-based international sales agent Fortissimo Films.

Malkovich plays a professor of romantic poetry who has an affair with one of his students and is driven into exile. But his new love is tested when the pair become victims of a vicious attack. Film reunites Fortissimo and key elements of Oz drama “La Spagnola,” which company repped three years ago. Coetzee-approved screenplay was penned by “Spagnola” scripter Anna-Maria Monticelli and will be helmed by that film’s director Steve Jacobs.

“This film really underlines how Fortissimo has evolved,” said co-prexy Michael J. Werner. “We are now a company that represents films from around the globe and operates at all levels of the film industry.” Company has five films across the Cannes festival, including John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus,” which gets a midnight screening, and Sydney Pollack-directed “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” which unspools in the official selection out of competition.

Werner says that as the film niches Fortissimo has long persued — feature documentaries, crossover Asian titles — have become more mainstream, company is increasingly being solicited by investors and studios. “With ongoing relationships with Wong Kar-wai, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Tsui Hark and Tsai Ming-liang, our Asian roots are as strong as ever. But we’ve never seen so many our films being released in the U.S. as now and never been courted by so much private equity.” “Seven Swords” was recently acquired by the Weinstein Co., “The Eye 3″ was sold to Lionsgate, Australian pic “Somersault” is now on release with Magnolia, “Twelve and Holding” is going out through IFC, and “Sketches” and Brazilian “House of Sand” were picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.

Company’s other Oz title is “Hunt Angels,” a docu chronicling a pair of renegade filmmakers in the 1940s who took on the cinema conglomerates and police corruption. Pic was produced by “Japanese Story” producer Sue Maslin with coin from the Film Finance Corp. It’s directed by Alec Morgan.

“Disgrace” is produced by Monticelli of Wild Strawberries Films, with Emile Sherman (“Candy,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence”) of Sherman Films. Julio DePietro takes exec producer credits along with Fortissimo co-prexies Wouter Barendrecht and Werner. Australian and New Zealand rights are retained by Dendy Films.

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